Immersion spots up to 66 for Mount Prevost

Following a report from Schools Superintendent Joe Rhodes that there is no urgent call from parents for a late French immersion program in the Cowichan Valley school district, trustees decided to increase the kindergarten registration at École Mount Prevost to 66 for September 2015. This comes following a plea from Prevost’s parent advisory council not to trim kindergarten entries to only 50 this coming year, even though district officials felt room should be left at the school to offer a late immersion class.

Trustees, when first faced with the problem, said they needed more information before they could make a decision and asked that students in Grades 5 and 6 in other schools be polled to see whether they might want to start French immersion later.

Rhodes said May 5 that what they had discovered was that parents and students need information about what was entailed. "But, if we want to tackle the issue of retention [of French immersion students into high school], late immersion is the way to do it," Rhodes said, pointing out that students who chose themselves to take classes in French were highly motivated to learn and, by Grade 8, were caught up to those who had been in immersion all along.

"Our suggestion is, delay that idea until the 2016/17 year and spend a year raising the profile of it," he said.

Trustee Elizabeth Croft said there was a perception among some Valley people that French immersion "is an extra expense to the district" but Rhodes said that while supporting small classes at high school level in particular is a challenge "it’s no different than supporting a small secondary school. It’s not a language problem, it’s a problem with the size of the cohort of students."

Trustee Cathy Schmidt asked that, in light of Rhodes’s report, the board remove the current registration cap at Mount Prevost and return it to 66 students for this fall.

"I did a lot of homework. At this point, I think there’s not an appetite for late immersion," she said.

The increase to the student body at Mount Prevost would mean the hiring of another teacher, trustees learned.

That caught the ear of board chair Candace Spilsbury.

"Are we creating an enrolment problem by capping it at 66? Should we open it up? Will we be looking at a class of 12?" she asked.

Rhodes said that at 66, the school would have three full kindergarten classes.

Spilsbury, Schmidt and Trustee Barb DeGroot were inclined to want to build the program up to ensure the district’s student body grows but Trustee Rob Hutchins was concerned about space and the possibility of having to fit up another classroom.

"Could we be going into uncharted territory by opening it up? After all, 66 was what the PAC was asking for."

After kicking the idea around, trustees decided that loosening the registration cap to allow for 66 registrations was enough.